On bossing Dan Rather

SEN. Jesse Helms is urging conservatives to purchase stock in CBS in order to become ``Dan Rather's boss.'' It is an effort to pressure CBS into expressing a more conservative perspective. Such an approach contains the seeds of hazard in a democracy. The centerpiece of a news organization should be the presentation of news in a manner both nonpartisan and nonideological. The pages of the reporting press, and the program and news content of the electronic media, should be professional -- reflecting the spectrum of responsible views.

Fundamental in a democracy is the requirement that citizens be well and impartially informed so that they can reach their own conclusions as they prepare to vote or to exercise other civic responsibilities. This is why the First Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees the freedom of the press.

Diversity of editorial policies among the press is invigorating. But the reported Helms move or any other group effort to bend the contents or perspectives of news reporting impedes the informed exercise of American citizenship.

In the past a few areas of the United States have been substantially harmed by the existence of a local news medium that significantly distorted news in content or tone. Down the road in any such effort lies censorship of content or view, a practice that today hampers many nations around the globe.

Obviously all journalists have opinions, and they must guard against letting them seep into their professional work. Similarly, journalistic organizations must exercise vigilance.

No journalistic enterprise is beyond fair scrutiny in its policies, and these days American news organizations, particularly the larger ones, are under sharp attack. Often this attack is ideological in nature, as with the Helms case, with the media accused of bias in favor of liberal viewpoints.

Yet this instance goes beyond scrutiny to pressure. The effort should be ended forthwith. ----30{et

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